Sea Breezes has been granted permission to turn the former marine laboratory in Port Erin into a ‘Marine Interpretation Centre’ with retail facilities, a cafe, dive centre, office and hotel.
This is despite the independent inspector Alan Langton’s recommendation the plan be refused because of the visual impact of car parking on the headland site.
The plan (13/00459/A) is for approval in principle to convert the site, operated as a marine laboratory by Liverpool University until 2006, to the centre (run by Manx Wildlife Trust), with other marine-related facilities.
The proposal involves converting and extending the existing (dilapidated) two and three storey buildings and removing poor quality rear additions. Two sea water tanks, acting as an educational aquarium, would be installed behind. The extension would operate as a 20-bedroom hotel. Car parking would be at either end of the complex and on the central green.
The village’s commissioners expressed concern about parking on the central grass area, which they said should retain some grass and the shelter, with soft landscaping and only overflow parking. They also raised concerns about coach parking and the weight limit on the access road, Strand Road.
Mr Langton said: ‘Re-use or redevelopment of the composite site would be of general benefit to Port Erin.’
He supported its redevelopment for marine-based tourist/leisure uses and residential – as an option – would be ‘considered favourably’.
He saw no problem with access – including by coach – along the ‘narrow length of Shore Road’ because visitors would just be visiting the centre, their trips spread out, ‘with only a few employees arriving or leaving over concentrated periods’.
He was also content the parking provision – 23 spaces to the east, 20 beyond the hotel and 67 in the central green area (amounting to 110 plus 46 overflow spaces) would be adequate.
However, his main issue was with the visual impact of the car parking.
‘The development’s prominent setting would be very considerably harmed by the expanse of equally prominent surface car parking proposed across the central green with potentially more on the existing hard standing.’
It would ‘damage the appearance and character of the headland’.
He said: ‘Somewhat reluctantly, but I have to say decisively, I consider that the scheme’s several substantially beneficial aspects would nonetheless be outweighed by this single, but very crucial, shortcoming.’
He recommended refusal because the plan ‘fails to demonstrate how sufficient car parking provision could be laid out in a visually acceptable manner at this prominent and sensitive location’ and this is contrary to the aims of the site as set out in the southern area plan.
If granted, he set out six conditions.
As some of the land in the plan is owned by the Department of Infrastructure, the plan was considered by the Council of Ministers (CoMin), which approved the plan.
CoMin felt conditions mitigated the inspector’s concerns ‘relating to the layout, location and visual appearance of the parking provision’.